I can clearly remember the first time I picked up a kettlebell 15 years ago. Kettlebells were fairly new to the UK back then, so I'd been sent to a gym to try a class and find out what all the fuss was all about.
I'd heard rumours I wouldn't be able to walk the next day after the session, so when my instructor asked me, 'How much pain do you want to feel?' and 'Do you want to boil, sizzle, or do you want to be destroyed?', I told him I wanted to be able to walk as I had plans for the weekend. Needless to say, he destroyed me, my weekend was ruined, and I still had trouble sitting down unaided four days later, such was the pain in my hamstrings and glutes.
You would think, therefore, that I would approach the challenge of doing 100 kettlebell swings a day for a week with extreme caution. But no. Even though I haven't used a kettlebell for a few years, I love this dynamic bit of kit, so I was actually looking forward to it. So, after finishing my 50 squats a day for a month challenge, I thought it was time to switch things up a bit and focus on functional muscle building. Did it help me get fit for 2023? Here's how it went.
Want to try the challenge for yourself? Then you'll need one of the best kettlebells. T3's fitness editor Matt also tried doing something similar a couple of years ago; you can read about it here: I tried the 10,000 swings kettlebell challenge, and here's how it went.
What are kettlebell swings?
In-depth: How to do kettlebell swings
Kettlebell swings work the legs, glutes, hip flexors, core and shoulders and form the basis of many other kettlebell exercises, including trickier single-arm kettlebell swings. Therefore, it’s essential you master the swinging technique before progressing to other moves.
Essentially, they involve swinging a kettlebell between your legs before raising it to shoulder height and repeating the action. Sounds easy, but good form is key to avoiding injury and maximising the effectiveness of this full-body exercise. Get them right, and you’ll soon be losing belly fat, building muscle, improving your posture and boosting your metabolism in no time.
How do I do kettlebell swings?
- With your kettlebell on the floor in front of you, bend at the hips and knees and grab the kettlebell with both hands. Keeping a flat back and ensuring your knees are in line with your toes, lift the kettlebell and swing it gently backward between your legs to create momentum.
- Bracing your core throughout, swing the kettlebell forwards and upwards with straight arms, straightening your knees and hips at the same time. Allow momentum to lift the kettlebell to shoulder height, making sure you control the motion using your core, back and shoulder muscles.
- At the top of the movement, drive your hips forward and squeeze your buttocks to control the thrust.
- As the kettlebell falls, bend your hips and knees and control the weight as it swings gently back between your legs. Continue to swing the kettlebell up to shoulder height and back down again (10-12 reps is a good place to start for beginners).
4 things I leanred from doing 100 kettlebell swings a day for a week
Kettlebell swings are great for your posture
Kettlebell swings target your hamstrings, glutes and back, including the erector spinae – a group of muscles that run up your spine. Together, these muscles help to form your posterior chain (the muscles at the back of your body) and strengthening your posterior chain helps you to stand tall, power movements like walking and running, improve athletic performance, reduce the risk of injury to your back, hips and knees, and counteract the effects of a sedentary lifestyle if you spend a lot of time sitting down or slouching.
After a week of doing 100 kettlebell swings a day, one of the biggest improvements I noticed was in my posture. My chest felt more open; I felt more able to pull my shoulders back and stand tall, and – after my body got over the initial shock - my lower back, shoulders, and neck felt less achy after hours sat at my computer.
Kettlebell swings gave me a better butt
I’ve always suffered from ‘lazy glutes syndrome’, so I usually kickstart all my workouts with a few sets of glute bridges to get my butt firing on all cylinders and help me avoid putting any extra strain on my hips, back and knees. This step, however, was rendered entirely pointless when I did 100 kettlebell swings a day.
That’s because the glutes are one of the main drivers of kettlebell swings, not to mention that you need to squeeze your glutes at the top of the movement to help stabilise the body and control the momentum of the kettlebell. I might not have noticed a visible difference in seven days, but my butt did feel firmer and stronger, and I also noticed an improvement in my running performance.
Kettlebell swings sent my heart rate souring
You get a lot of bang for your buck with kettlebell swings. Despite being low-impact, they’re high in intensity because your heart has to work hard to push oxygenated blood to the majority of the muscles in your body to power the movement.
By the time I’d hit the halfway stage of 50 reps, my heart was working at about 80 per cent of its max heart rate, even though the move doesn’t feel especially gruelling when you’re doing it. Incidentally, I dropped 4lbs in a week, which is hardly surprising when you consider the results of a study showed that, on average, an adult doing kettlebell swings would burn 20 calories a minute of training, meaning a 20-minute kettlebell session would help you burn approximately 400 calories – the equivalent to 30 minutes of running or an hour of weightlifting.
Kettlebell swings can get boring
By the end of the week, I was smashing out 100 kettlebells in just over five minutes. But counting the reps - and doing the same movement over and over - was mind-numbing work. I suggest you find a couple of great tunes with the right pace so you can power along in time to the music and forget counting. Or, once you’ve mastered your technique, introduce some new kettlebell moves with the help of this guide to the best kettlebell workout for beginners or our hardcore kettlebell workout for strength. There is also what we think is the best kettlebell workout from kettlebell master Eric Leija.